Monday, September 5, 2016

The divergent party, Part III: Mythologies of midterm elections

Continuing in the discussion of Republican divergence, how is it that Republicans seem to be throwing away a presidential election with Donald Trump, yet doing just fine in other races with basically the same platform year after year?  In Part II, I talked about the difference between the candidate and the platform, and how policy platforms are of minimal electoral relevance.  Here, let's tackle a modern favorite myth among lefties.  (Remember the title of the blog?)  Republicans have some sort of built-in advantage in the midterms and lower-level elections, whereas Democrats have a built-in advantage in presidential elections because of turnout.

This is an oldie but a goodie, and still perpetuated by people who base their reasoning on sham political science done by hacks like Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward.  Piven & Cloward basically say the following:  rich people vote, poor people don't so everything sucks.  Anyone who has read any real political science on turnout, like Wolfinger & Rosenstone's Who Votes? knows that it is infinitely more complex.  Turnout is based primarily on factors like education and age, but that leads us to the more complicated, and not as stupid version.  (There is little as stupid as Piven and Cloward.  Then again, they sell more books than I do, so...)

The modern mythology is as follows.  Democrats win presidential elections because of course they do.  Self-congratulatory pat on the back, derogatory comment about country bumpkins, racists, bible-thumpers and gun nuts.  But, in non-presidential elections, turnout drops.  The remaining electorate is older and whiter.  That demographic skews Republican, leaving Republicans with an advantage in non-presidential elections, allowing Republicans to win midterms 'n' such.  Thus, Democrats win the elections with legitimacy (higher turnout, cuz', that means legitimacy in this line of reasoning), and the Republicans win the ones without legitimacy.  Note the sneering.  You can see why Democrats like this one.

Note, also, that it neatly explains the last two midterms, 2014 and 2010.  Then, um, well, uh...

Fuck.  Then, there's 2006.  Yeah, see, there's the big problem.  The real thing with midterms is that they skew against the party of the president, most of the time.  Two big exceptions:  1998, when Newt Gingrich, well, blew the election by impeaching Clinton and there was splashback, I mean blowback, I mean, never mind, (sorry-not-sorry), and then 2002, when Bush the Younger was riding high on the post-9/11 boost in his approval ratings.  But, um, 1982?  1986?  1990?  Pretty much, with a Republican in the White House, a midterm skews Democratic.

But, with Obama in the White House, a midterm will go Republican.  Right now, that means older and whiter, although the former is a relatively new phenomenon.  This whole story Democrats like to tell themselves?  It's ass-backwards.  See what I did there?  Donkey?  Ass?  Never mind.  The point, again, is that Republicans have maintained electoral success with Trumpian platforms because it isn't the platform.  This leaves them with divergent levels of success.  And, while Democrats love to tell themselves this silly, little fairy tale about midterms and turnout and such, it betrays a memory only slightly longer than that of a goldfish.

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